Artwork by Cuban-American Artist Xavier Cortada Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Florida Department of State

September 25, 2007


Tallahassee, FLORIDA — In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning announces an exhibition of paintings in the Governor’s Gallery, an installation of flags in the Capitol Rotunda and a display of two murals at the Governor’s Mansion by Miami artist Xavier Cortada. Organized by the Division of Cultural Affairs, these exhibitions are part of a statewide celebration initiated by Governor Charlie Crist to commemorate the tapestry of culture that is Hispanic history, the arts, and prosperity in Florida.

“The Department of State is delighted to partner with the Governor’s office to promote the special celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month,” said Secretary of State Kurt Browning. “Xavier Cortada is a wonderfully talented artist and a state treasure. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to exhibit his work in our Capitol and at the Governor’s Mansion – The People’s House.”

For this celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Cortada shares with the people of Florida his Endangered World art installation in the Capitol’s Rotunda. This installation at the South Pole and now in Tallahassee expresses our interconnectedness to each other and our natural world, a theme that resonates with Hispanic Heritage and culture. Interestingly, five centuries ago, Spanish explorers planted flags on the coasts of this continent to create geopolitical boundaries, usher change and build communities in the New World. This year, in response to global climate changes, this Hispanic artist planted flags in a continent whose melting ice could displace millions from our coastlines and destroy fragile ecosystems globally.

During a National Science Foundation (NSF) Antarctic Artists Program residency, Xavier Cortada created the Endangered World art installation to warn of the imminent threat to Earth’s biodiversity. The installation’s 24 flags were premiered at the Governor’s Florida Summit on Climate Change. This exhibit at the State Capitol is only the second time they are being shown since they arrived from Antarctica.

In painting each flag, the Miami artist diluted his acrylic paint with melted Antarctic sea ice and wrote the scientific names of an endangered species in each of the 24 time zones. Cortada also painted the longitude of the habitat in which each animal struggles for survival.

He then planted the 24 flags in a circle around the South Pole, aligning each flag with its respective longitude. The 24 animals Cortada selected for the flags are endangered because their habitats are environmentally threatened. Unless we act to address issues of global climate change and ecosystem destruction, many of these banners will soon bear the name of extinct species.

On display in the Governor’s Gallery are Cortada’s Ice Paintings. While in Antarctica, Miami artist Xavier Cortada met many scientists who informed him about their work. They provided him with samples obtained through their scientific research. These included sea ice from Antarctica’s Ross Sea, ice from the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet and sediment from the Dry Valleys – one of the few places in the continent not covered by ice.

During his stay in Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, Cortada used these samples to create works on paper. The artist titled the art pieces by randomly selecting the names of geographic features from a map of the continent that inspired their creation.

On display at the Governor’s Mansion are two large scale paintings entitled,Conquistadores and RaÍces. In both paintings Cortada uses the metaphor of the mangroves to help tell the story of Florida’s Hispanic Heritage.

Conquistadores, heavy with armor, land amid mangroves on a Florida shoreline. The difficulty of their journey is depicted by the stormy skies and the whitecaps of these uncharted waters. The crocodile in the foreground represents the hardships the first explorers suffered after they made land fall, including ambush and fights with the Florida’s indigenous people. During the beginning of the 16h century, none are successful in establishing a settlement. Nonetheless, they plant their flag and claim the land for Spain and in doing so begin to set their roots in Florida. They are the first of many Hispanics who through time will contribute to the state’s tapestry of cultures.
shows a different picture of 16th century Florida. Half a century after Ponce de Leon first landed on its shores, Spanish families are beginning to settle in Florida. Although hardship is widespread, the outlook for settlement is hopeful. Catholic missions (represented by the pelican at the bottom right of the painting) are being established in Florida, creating a nexus between Spaniards and indigenous people. At the center of the painting, a family gazes at their newborn child. The family is integrated into a mangrove forest, its roots embracing and protecting them, much like community members do for one another in their new settlement. In the foreground, new mangrove seedlings sprout. Like the seedlings, Floridians of Hispanic and Latin American origin have begun to set their roots here as they will for centuries to come.

An accomplished world renowned artist, well-known for his collaborative public artwork, Xavier Cortada has previously worked with groups across the world to produce numerous large-scale collaborative art projects– including eco-art installations on Miami Beach and the South Pole (sponsored by a National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program residency). In 2008, he’ll bring his art installations to the North Pole. The Miami artist has been commissioned to create art for the White House, the Florida Supreme Court, Miami City Hall, Miami-Dade County Hall, the Miami Art Museum, the Museum of Florida History and the South Pole Station. Cortada’s work is also in the permanent collection of The World Bank. Cortada holds three degrees from the University of Miami – a Bachelor of Arts, Master of Public Administration and Juris Doctor.